Skip to main content

Shamima Begum was smuggled into Syria by Canadian spy, new book claims

Begum, who was stripped of her UK citizenship last year, was smuggled into Syria by a man working for Canadian intelligence - and the UK covered up Ottawa's role
Begum and her two friends were trafficked into Syria by a people-smuggler who was a double agent working for both the IS group and Canadian intelligence (Screengrab)

Shamima Begum, a former British citizen who travelled to join the Islamic State (IS) group in 2015 at the age of 15, was smuggled into Syria by an intelligence agent who was working for Canada, according to a new book and reports from UK news outlets on Tuesday.

Scotland Yard was informed that Begum and her two friends were trafficked from Bethnal Green into Syria by a smuggler who was a double agent working for both the IS group and Canadian intelligence, according to The Secret History of the Five Eyes, an upcoming book written by Richard Kerbaj, former security correspondent of The Sunday Times.

Shamima Begum not allowed to return to UK, Supreme Court rules
Read More »

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Canada recruited Mohammed al-Rashed, a human trafficker, when he applied for asylum at the Canadian embassy in Jordan, and he is believed to have helped dozens more Britons and organised the travel of people into Syria.

Rashed photographed the passports of Begum and her friends - on the pretext that he needed proof of identity to buy domestic transport tickets - and forwarded the images to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

The book claims that the Canadians were then silent as the UK's Metropolitan Police Service issued an urgent appeal asking anyone who had seen the teenagers after they went to the Gatwick Airport to come forward.

Ottawa continued to remain silent, but when Turkey arrested Rashed and found him in possession of travel documents including bus tickets belonging to the British schoolgirls, it privately told the UK.

According to a claim made in the book, Canada successfully asked the British to cover up its role.

The BBC also reported that it had obtained files showing the agent claimed to have shared Begum's passport details with Canada, and smuggled other Britons to fight for the IS group.

A CSIS spokesperson told the BBC he could not "publicly comment on or confirm or deny the specifics of CSIS investigations, operational interests, methodologies or activities".

A British government spokesperson said: "It is our long-standing policy that we do not comment on operational intelligence or security matters."

'Intelligence-gathering prioritised over children's lives'

The bombshell report has reignited the conversation around the controversial move made by the UK to strip Begum of her British citizenship, which her lawyers are challenging under the argument she was a trafficking victim.

Tasnime Akunjee, the lawyer for the Begum family, said there will be a legal hearing in November to challenge the removal of Begum's citizenship.

"One of the main arguments" against this move will be that then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who made the decision, did not consider that she was a victim of trafficking.

"The UK has international obligations as to how we view a trafficked person and what culpability we prescribe to them for their actions," he told the BBC.

Akunjee added that it was "shocking" to learn that someone working for Canadian intelligence was a key part of the smuggling operation, "someone who is supposed to be an ally, protecting our people, rather than trafficking British children into a war zone".

"Intelligence-gathering looks to have been prioritised over the lives of children," he said.

Begum, 23, is currently in limbo as she is being held in a detention camp in northeast Syria but has no home to return to without her UK citizenship.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.